I've just posted a link to an article from the Telegraph that was posted in May of this year. It can be seen on my scoop.it page. It concerns the future of Undershaw which, as my regular readers know, is something I go on about rather a lot.
In keeping with modern custom, there were a large number of reader comments appended to the bottom of said article. As per usual, a lot more chaff than wheat was to be found but one comment stood out for me.
The poster, who was clearly against the idea of saving the house, remarked that we don’t need a house to remember Conan Doyle as he lives on through his works.
A nice sentiment but does he really? The name lives on yes but is that the same as the author living on?
One of the reasons Conan Doyle sought to kill off Holmes was that he found Holmes to be an obstacle to his career perhaps even to his life (i.e. the living of it). Holmes had become so real to the readers of The Strand Magazine that their demand for more stories prevented his creator moving on to other things.
The upshot was that Conan Doyle the man was eclipsed by his own creation who was deemed more important by the general public.
This state of affairs is as true now as it was then. There are people out there who know every last thing about Sherlock Holmes but know next to nothing about his creator. If this is the definition of an author living on through his work then I question its accuracy. In reality this is the character living on, not the author.
Over time authors start to become almost mythical, their works increasingly (and inevitably) read by people born long after they themselves died. Their names are known or at least dimly recognized but beyond that people know little, if anything, about them. A good way to keep these authors, to a certain extent, rooted on earth is to preserve something of the physical world they lived in. People might argue that Conan Doyle has been the subject of many biographies (I know, I've written two) and that therefore his life is well documented but a biography is, ultimately, just a factual story and, as time passes and the world moves on, it becomes as impossible to prove it to be true as the latest Harry Potter (perhaps the only modern creation to come close to eclipsing his creator).
This is where physical evidence comes in. Charles Dickens’ birthplace in
Portsmouth and his house are both
dedicated museums where his personal effects can be seen and his world, to a
certain extent, can be experienced. What does Conan Doyle have? There is a
grave – yes but this is evidence of his death not his life. London
Undershaw represents a place where, over ten years, he created much that we still enjoy today. The house he designed and in which he walked, ate, slept and wrote will, when combined with documentary and photographic evidence, allow him to truly live on. People will then be able to see him as a human being and not just as the man who gave us Sherlock Holmes.
For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .
The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK, Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.
Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.